Kyle Goist and Jack Flinner aren’t related. They didn’t even grow up knowing each other. They met by chance at a mutual friend’s party in their late teens and immediately bonded over farm talk. The rest is history — in the making.
The two were farming individually when they met. Flinner was around 15 when he started making hay on his late grandpa’s land with his grandma’s permission. Goist was born and raised on a farm in Navarre and became a sought-after mechanic at a young age.
“We knew we had the same goals and where we wanted to get to,” said Flinner, 27. “Two can get as much done as three people.”
The two have put their minds together and steadily grown G&F Family Farms since they incorporated in 2013 after farming together casually for about three years. Today, they farm around 500 acres of row crops, 170 acres of hay and feed beef and hogs for meat. They started selling the meat by the pound at local farmers markets, and now have a small storefront at their “home farm,” where Flinner lives.
Naturally, Goist, 29, is the mechanical and equipment expert and keeps his focus on the row crops, and he has found that he enjoys spending time with customers at the farmers market. Flinner is the animal expert and spends his time and energy ensuring the animals are well cared for and healthy. They both get involved in every aspect of the farm supporting each other as needed and allowing the other to make the decisions when it comes to his area of expertise.
When it comes to making equipment purchasing decisions, Goist is the ultimate decision maker. When it comes to the livestock, Flinner is. It hasn’t always been easy, though. At least one heated argument demonstrated their crucial need for communication, and that experience taught them to express their concerns and opinions, and admit when they’re wrong.
“Anything he does, I trust him,” said Flinner. “I know I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Stakeholders in Sustainability
The home farm storefront is currently open on Thursdays and Saturdays, and customers stop by to take a look at the local farm that raises their food, ask questions of the farmers, and enjoy the experience.
Goist and Flinner say their customers often tell them they wanted to “take a drive to the farm” to pick up a couple pounds of bacon or steaks and chat. They marvel at how customers want to experience the farm and learn about how their food is produced. Goist said G&F Farms is not certified organic or non-GMO, and once they explain that to their customers, they don’t seem to mind.
“Most want local,” said Flinner. “They don’t care if it’s organic.”
The farmers here care about sustainability — environmental, economic and social. They work with local milk bottlers to save milk destined for a landfill and feed it to their hogs. In most cases, the milk or cottage cheese they receive is slightly “out of spec” for consumers. For example, they might get 3.5% butterfat in cottage cheese required to have 4% fat to make it to the grocery shelves — but it’s still a very high quality feed product. In addition, they work with a local vineyard that provides wet distillers grain, a byproduct from their bourbon and whiskey distilling process, that results in a high protein feed byproduct.
These opportunities to prevent waste are a win-win for the farmers and their partners. They also plant all of their owned and long-term leased farmland in cover crops, which prevents erosion and maintains organic matter in the soil. They regularly use chicken litter as fertilizer and have experimented with a biofertilizer byproduct from a renewable energy plant. They’ve worked to dial in GPS technology to improve their yields. On one 25 acre field last year, they realized 220 bushel/acre corn.
“We had to calibrate the yield monitor twice to make sure we were getting it right!” said Goist. Flinner added, “It’s not about how much you farm, it’s about what you do with it,” said Flinner.
Managing Opportunities for Growth
Eventually, the partners would like to add processing to their operation. The Spring 2020 COVID-19 crisis made it clear that may happen more quickly than they originally anticipated. “We thought it was a long-term dream to cut out the middle-man and start our own butcher shop,” said Goist. The supply chain challenges experienced by farmers, meat processors and consumers during that time clarified the need for more small, local processors, and G&F would like to capitalize on that need. They already had attended meat processing classes in Missouri, and plan to continue honing the craft.
Such growth would require more hands and plenty of changes. None as much as the timing and risk involved of Goist leaving full-time employment as a specialized mechanic. He says there’s nothing he wants more than to be on the farm full-time, and he often weighs the risks and rewards of that eventuality.
“I hope he gets to know what it feels like not to go to work, but to get to go to work” said Flinner, who rises each morning to work full-time on the farm. “We’re young enough to take some chances.”
Goist agrees, “Why do something for the money? Do something because you’re passionate about it.”
It’s clear the two men are passionate about making a living as farmers, learning as much as they can and being good stewards of the environment and consumer trust.
What began as regular trips to the farmers market has expanded to include website sales, a Facebook page, professional brochures and a G&F Family Farms brand label.
“Those things were a big investment, but important,” said Goist, who says he enjoys his time at the farmers market and talking to customers about agriculture. It’s become his way of educating others and doing his part to help the industry he loves.
The two know they can set premium prices on their meat products, but are careful to keep it affordable to encourage repeat customers.
“I’d rather have more customers and sell more product,” said Goist about overcharging for a branded product.
In addition to marketing meat to local consumers, they sell about 75% of their hay to the Amish community. And, the bulk of their corn, soybeans and wheat are marketed through Deerfield Ag Services.
The Future of G&F Families
The Goist and Flinner families already support the young men in their business enterprise. Both credit their grandparents with helping to inspire their love of farming. Both have learned tricks of the trade from their fathers, who are employed off-the- farm but help out when the opportunity presents itself. Jack’s dad, Vic Flinner, feeds many evenings and on weekends, and Kyle’s father is also a mechanic and steps in when help is needed. Goist’s girlfriend (a nurse) also pitches in on the farm hauling hay or feeding livestock.
Both Flinner and Goist agree their families have been a blessing, and that they have a common interest in seeing the partners in G&F Family Farms succeed. The average bystander would think these young men have already accomplished more in their 20s than most do in a lifetime, but they’re only just getting started.
“We have big plans,” said Goist.